Tina Turner returned to the stage in London on Tuesday to share an important life message: “It is possible to turn poison into medicine.”
Dressed in an elegant grey trouser suit, the 78-year-old music legend made her rare public appearance at the world premiere of the bio-musical Tina, which details every turbulent moment of Turner’s 50-year singing career.
“I forgive him,” Turner joked as she turned towards Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who plays her abusive ex-husband Ike Turner in the show, before cheekily turning towards her actual second husband, Erwin Bach. “I found a replacement,” she said with a laugh.
Opening beside a lynching tree in the poverty-stricken town of Nutbush, Tennessee, the show follows Turner’s life as she moves to St. Louis, enters into a torrid, abusive relationship with Ike, then ultimately finds the strength to set out on her own and claim global superstardom. Throughout, the show is moving, euphoric and totally mesmerizing.
“We have been working on this show for more than three years now,” Turner writes in the musical’s program notes. “In that time, a lot of people have asked me why I wanted to make a musical. I always found it a little difficult to answer… because I don’t!”
“I’ve been blessed with a wonderful career,” she continues, “and after more than 50 years of performing I don’t need a musical, I don’t need another show. But I get so many cards and letters — I still can’t believe how people feel about me on stage and the legacy they say I left. People tell me I gave them hope. It meant so much to people I feel I have to pass it on, and I hope this show serves what the people need, as a reminder of my work.”
Stepping into Turner’s famous high heels — and equally high hairstyles — actress Adrienne Warren gives a barnstorming performance in the title role of Tina, bringing the audience to their feet with flawless, energetic renditions of iconic hits such as “Nutbush City Limits,” “Proud Mary” and “What’s Love Got to Do with It.” She is ably supported in the first half by Holdbrook-Smith, as the couple find success and sorrow throughout the ’60s and ’70s.
With Ike pushed out of her life in Act Two, Tina finds herself performing in “the singer’s graveyard” of Las Vegas and heads to London in a last-ditch attempt to save her career. It’s here that Turner finds true love with Bach and begins her path to solo superstardom.
Fittingly, the show concludes with Tina strutting onto the stage in front of 180,000 fans in Rio De Janeiro to belt out “Simply the Best.” Warren is joined at this climactic moment by a full rock band and the performance turns into a mini Tina Turner gig — full of whooping, wild dancing and stunning vocals.
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“It’s difficult to see someone else do what we did for 40 years. I’m a perfectionist, so I look a little bit critically,” Turner told BBC News after the show. “But when I look and see it done so well, I feel proud…The first time [I saw the show] it was difficult because they hadn’t come as far as they have come now — it was more to criticize. Tonight, I didn’t criticize. It was just to enjoy and feel proud.”
Turner continued, “I’ll be coming backwards and forwards to have a look and watch my children.”